Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to decrease belief in intelligent design

Tracy et al. make the encouraging observation that teaching existential meaning in naturalism can decrease belief in intelligent design. Their research:
...examined the psychological motives underlying widespread support for intelligent design theory (IDT), a purportedly scientific theory that lacks any scientific evidence; and antagonism toward evolutionary theory (ET), a theory supported by a large body of scientific evidence. We tested whether these attitudes are influenced by IDT's provision of an explanation of life's origins that better addresses existential concerns than ET. In four studies, existential threat (induced via reminders of participants' own mortality) increased acceptance of IDT and/or rejection of ET, regardless of participants' religion, religiosity, educational background, or preexisting attitude toward evolution. Effects were reversed by teaching participants that naturalism can be a source of existential meaning (see text clip of Dawkins' writing just below), and among natural-science students for whom ET may already provide existential meaning. These reversals suggest that the effect of heightened mortality awareness on attitudes toward ET and IDT is due to a desire to find greater meaning and purpose in science when existential threats are activated.

(sample clip from Dawkins: "It is very reasonable for humans to want to understand something of our context in a broader universe, awesome and vast. It is also reasonable for us to want to understand something about ourselves. And understanding the nature of the world and the nature of ourselves is, to a very major degree, I believe, what the human enterprise is about. Truth should be pursued, and science helps us pursue it; science gives us meaning.")

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